A Case Against ‘Gotcha Day’

In the world of adoption, we have a special holiday frequently referred to as ‘Gotcha Day.’ Gotcha Day is the anniversary of the day you became a forever family to the adoptee. Some families celebrate Gotcha Day on the day the adoptee first moved into the household. Others celebrate on the day the adoption was legally recognized. Some families don’t prefer the ‘Gotcha’ terminology and celebrate this day by another name. Other families, like ours, simply don’t celebrate this day at all. Even more mind-blowing, aside from the initial adoption party, we rarely even mention their legal adoptions. While discussing our family dynamics with a friend recently, I realized I had forgotten our adoption dates. My saving grace was that I could recollect the month, at least. But even their foster placement dates are starting to fade. This may seem appalling, but I believe this nonchalant, nearly indifferent attitude stems from how we view our family. Our adopted children were a part of our hearts when we decided to enter foster care; this journey started before we ever saw their faces or knew their names. Inside we had already committed ourselves to them.

The idea of annually celebrating the moment your adoptee became a part of your family tends to be focused on showering the adoptee with love. It’s hard to argue that this is not a good thing, however, herein I will make a case against this tradition. I do feel this is entirely subjective and very much dependent on each family’s journey.

This is our journey.

I recall when our first adoption anniversary came around and I felt some social pressure – an expectation – that this is what adoptive families do. If we didn’t, we were missing an important opportunity to show our adopted children our love. Even more disconcerting, maybe we would interfere with the attachment process if we didn’t explicitly revive the memory of their adoption. Interestingly, our first adoption anniversary fell within a week of our next legal adoption. Our sibling group’s Gotcha Day was overshadowed by younger brother’s adoption ceremony and party, but the close timing neatly tied all three finalizations together. We were now all permanently part of the family forever. By the time the following year rolled around (anniversary #2), I didn’t even want to touch the topic.

For starters, I don’t think adoption is God’s best plan. Don’t be alarmed – God loves adoption and so do I. God’s best plan, in my view, is that my children’s birth families would have been stable since day one; that none of this would have ever needed to happen to the parents, to the kids, or to us. But that’s not how the story went, and so enters another chance for stability. That chance was our family. We are grateful to be parents to our adoptive and biological children. They are all unique, beautiful, and resilient. Remember the Garden of Eden? God’s best plan was for us to have fellowship with him without sin and the need for the intervening blood of Christ. But, plan B was beautiful as well, and he knew it would be necessary and that it would all work out. He wanted a relationship with his children.

After making it through a hell of a ride with the foster system over the several years our cases were open, adoption day felt more like an end to the trauma of endless ambiguity than it did the beginning of a forever family. We had committed ourselves to our foster/adoptive kids the moment we said ‘yes’ to foster care. We had to reiterate it verbally, daily, for some seasons (and still need to). Adoption just meant that no one could legally interfere with our ‘yes’ anymore. Twice our youngest was expected to move to extended family. Twice we had to mourn the loss of him; more sleepless nights of weeping. That’s foster care. One of those moves was reversed so last-minute that we had already discussed it with the kids and they were grieving as well. We tried to go along with it; this could be a good thing. He would be closer to his birth family, but that didn’t make it any easier. All of us wanted to be rid of that judge character who might say ‘no’ to us staying together. Our eldest was traumatized about any move to anywhere before he even arrived; having already been affected by his bounces around the system. Foster families have very little power; we are simply a cog on the machine of Children and Youth, an extension of the agency.

Post adoption day we had many behaviors to manage. My understanding is that some of our children, particularly our eldest, needed to subconsciously test our promise once and for all. He was part of our family forever, but could our love really accept him, no matter what? This particular stint was shortish (a month, at most two), but very intense. After that, his behavior leveled off. Finally, inside himself, he was starting to relax. This was home, forever. No more caseworkers, no more visits, no more waiting on the judge. He could grieve the loss of his birth parents and start to move forward.

Adoption is multifaceted. It is emotionally complex. It is, first, a great loss. And second, a great gain. The gaining of a forever family means the loss of a birth family. The foster years were years of loss; of trying to cope and move forward with two families inside each child’s heart. Maybe someday it will seem like a good idea to celebrate that final, legal moment but several years post adoption, I still have no desire to revive any of this…the trauma of being ricocheted around the court system, the goodbyes to biological family, the inconsistent visitation required by the court, the constant supervision of child protective services. Celebrating the day our kids were placed in our homes feels worse to me because it’s even closer to the moment they were torn away from their birth parents. They gained us, but for all the emotional turmoil we had been through in the years leading up to adoption, we were already a forever family. We just needed a court to put their stamp of approval on our ‘yes.’ Adoption day could have easily been renamed The Day the Judge Said ‘Yes.’

For us, our forever family started when we opened our home to foster placements. Even though we knew the cases could go any direction, it was in the children’s best interest to act as forever parents; to love them like children of our own, for life, even if they may move elsewhere. When the legal system finally placed them in our care forever, we were already a forever family. Even now, we are still on a journey because each child has their own birth history and relationships to manage. To a certain extent, we are stewards, trying to direct them toward a healthy adulthood and appropriate connections with both us and their birth families, when it is helpful. Adoption day feels a bit like a trauma that we collectively survived and conquered, but it’s not one we feel we need to relive.

The photo above is a picture of our kiddos doing life together as a forever family.